Lady Trojans, Gryphons set for NCHSSA playoffs
The North Carolina High School Athletic Association released pairings for the women’s soccer state playoffs Tuesday morning and two Rutherford County squads have made the field.
The Chase Trojans earned the number two seed out of the SMAC by virtue of a coin toss over East Rutherford and will travel to face North Henderson.
For the second consecutive season, Thomas Jefferson enters the playoffs as a wild card and like last year, they will face Highlands out of the Smoky Mountain Conference in the first round.
CHASE (1-13-1) at N. HENDERSON (4-13-0)Wednesday, May 8, 6 p.m.
The Chase Trojans needed a goal in the 79th minute from Christiana Jimenez against East and a favorable coin flip to qualify for the playoffs. Now that they have reached the postseason, coach Scott Hopper wants to stay awhile.
“North Henderson is a very favorable match-up for us,” he said. “I feel like we can create chances against them. We just have to put the ball in the back of the net. If we can do that, we have a great chance to win the game.”
Hopper is quick to admit that scoring has proved difficult for the Lady Trojans in 2013, as they have only tallied four goals on the year while surrendering 66.
“We have had great chances to score all year. We just haven’t put the ball in the back of the net,” he said. “For example, during our first game with East, we outshot them 25-2, but lost 1-0 on an own goal. We are a much better team now than we were at the beginning of the year, especially on defense. We just need to put the ball in the back of the net.”
The Lady Trojans top scoring threat is Jimenez, but Hopper will also rely on seniors Katalyn Conner and Kendra Holcombe.
“Katalyn and Kendra were so close to scoring against East, but they both missed wide open shots,” Hopper said. “I don’t expect them to make the same mistake again. I think they both have a good chance to get on the board.”
Aside from scoring, Chase must embrace their role as an underdog.
“People will see our record and overlook us, but like I told the team, we deserve to be in the playoffs,” said Hopper. “Even though no one else believes we can win, the team does and I do too. We have moved a few people around in the lineup and that has made us a lot stronger over the past few games. I think we are going to surprise some people this week.”
Thomas Jefferson (11-8-1) at Highlands (10-6-3)Wednesday, May 8, 6 p.m.
The 2013 soccer season has been a roller coaster for the Lady Gryphons. After starting the season 7-0, TJCA stumbled down the stretch, thanks in large part to an injury suffered by Anna Dedmon. But the Gryphons did earn a playoff berth and head coach Brian Espinoza believes they are poised for another state title run.
“We are thrilled to be in the playoff and we are excited about where we are in the bracket,” said Espinoza. “We have played Highlands before, so we have experience against them. They are a good team, but I am excited about the match-up.”
Espinoza has reason to be excited. TJCA defeated Highlands 3-1 in the opening round of the 2012 postseason on their way to a regional championship and a spot in the state title match.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” Espinoza said. “We had to win four games in a row on the way to the championship and we will have to do the same again this year. It will be a challenge, but we know what to expect.”
“I enjoy playing on the road,” continued Espinoza. “It takes all the pressure off us and puts it on the other team. I think we play better on the road and I think the team is also looking forward to that challenge. Everyone sees us as an underdog because we have to play on the road. I think the team will use that as motivation.”
TJCA is also looking for big things from Dedmon. The senior striker has tallied 152 goals in her career and is nearly back to full strength going into the playoffs.
“Anna is playing at about 90 percent right now,” said Espinoza. “You could see her start to play better in the last few matches. The whole team has been playing better recently and I am pleased. We have to take things one game at a time, but if we play well, we have a great shot at doing some special things. I’m looking forward to it.”